SBD/December 16, 2010/Facilities

AEG Reveals L.A. NFL Stadium Designs From Three Finalists

AEG Hoping To Begin Construction On New Venue By '12, In Time To Finish For '15 Season

AEG yesterday "revealed architectural renderings" from three design firms of the company's proposed events center in downtown L.A., according to Arash Markazi of ESPN L.A. AEG will "choose a design and work on the entitlement process with the City of Los Angeles within 30 days." Tim Romani, President & CEO of Icon Venue Group, the event center's project manager, said yesterday that the development "would be built within" AEG's $1B and on the proposed site near Staples Center. The plan is to "first tear down the West Hall, build a $350 million replacement and then begin construction" on a 72,000-seat retractable roof stadium. If all "goes as planned, construction on the new stadium would begin by 2012 with the stadium ready to be opened in time" for the '15 NFL season. Markazi noted each design firm's "vision for the stadium was as distinct as their backgrounds." AEG Real Estate Development Exec VP Ted Tanner said, "I'm blown away by the amazing creativity and different approaches." Tanner reiterated AEG President & CEO Tim Leiweke's stance that the company is "hoping to reach an agreement with the city, an agreement with the NFL and at least an understanding of the team that will be moving to Los Angeles within the next three months." He said, "That's the intent. Conversations would continue" (ESPNLA.com, 12/15).

DESIGN DETAILS: Each finalist had two hours and 15 minutes to make its presentation and answer questions before a group of seven officials representing stadium ownership, development and operations. Those seven were AEG's Leiweke, Tanner, Bob Newman and Lee Zeidman, and Icon Venue's Romani, Charlie Thornton and Rob Stephens. The six renderings released publicly, two from each finalist, were sent to AEG in advance for distribution and put on a new website, thelaeventcenter.com. Gensler and HNTB provided interior bowl shots. HKS did not, but the firm did show those views to the group during its presentation, Romani said. HKS Principal Mark Williams did not return an e-mail asking why his company did not make an interior image available to the public. AEG's proposal calls for a retractable roof, and the public images showed the roof in the open position, but did not give an indication of how it would operate. The Gensler and HNTB designs both contain an accordion-style solution where the roof folds back, Romani said. The HKS plan is different; the roof would be made of a fiberglass membrane supported by a lightweight cable system. The polytetrafluoroethylene fabric is the same material being used for the roof renovation at B.C. Place in Vancouver, where Icon Venue is the owner's representative for PavCo, the stadium's public landlord. AEG is targeting $725M in hard construction costs alone, and officials remain confident that they can build a stadium with a moveable roof and stay within that budget, Romani said. The entire project cost, including infrastructure upgrades, is budgeted at $1B. "There is no question we can get it done for less than that," Romani said. Officials expect to select an architect in the next two weeks to 30 days, he said. AEG Chair Phil Anschutz is privately financing the project and has the final say on who designs the stadium, Romani said. The three design firms have not been paid for their work to date, Romani confirmed (Don Muret, SportsBusiness Journal).

SEVERAL HURDLES STILL TO CLEAR: AEG and Icon Venue officials yesterday acknowledged that there "remains a number of significant obstacles in front of the project," including "financial, environmental and logistical issues." Romani said, "This is a monumental task but there is nothing about this project that scares me." Romani added, "There's a budget mandate and that has to be held to." When asked if the stadium would be built without a deal for an NFL team, Tanner said, "I don't believe so." AEG and Icon officials "could not answer how long the convention space would be unavailable during the project." Romani admitted replacing the convention center presents a "series of challenges" and added, "We hope to minimize the period of time we'd be without that space." In California, Scott Reid notes the "availability of that convention center is likely to be a major sticking point with Los Angeles City Council members" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 12/16).

NOT ON BOARD YET: In L.A., Sam Farmer notes Anschutz is "not 100% on board." Leiweke said, "Not yet. He's getting there. This is a work in progress, and we've never made any bones about that. It's always been a work in progress. We had to get everything lined up in order for (Anschutz) to give us the green light. We're working on it, and we're making progress. But we're not there yet." Leiweke added, "I think we can get Mr. Anschutz comfortable by March if we can get people to the right place. We know we're not going to have a team locked in by March, everyone knows that." Farmer notes even "without the full commitment of Anschutz, the concept of a downtown stadium has gained significant traction among NFL owners and executives." But Majestic Realty VP John Semcken, whose company has proposed a competing NFL stadium in City of Industry, Calif., yesterday released an e-mailed statement saying, "Flashy renderings can't disguise AEG's call for taxpayer dollars at a time when California is broke." Leiweke responded, “Once again, zero taxpayer dollars, and these guys should stop scaring the public. That's terrible. And by the way, everyone sees right through them, including the league, and they ought to stop it. Because they're not doing themselves any good by lying like that, and we ought to just take the rhetoric down and let the process play out. It's not personal, and they shouldn't make it personal. And that's the last we're going to acknowledge any of their statements” (L.A. TIMES, 12/16).

UNDER REVIEW: L.A. TIMES architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne writes all three stadium designs propose "safe, sleek, inoffensive corporate architecture." The design from HNTB "calls for a barn-like structure that seems oblivious to the urban character and architectural form surrounding it." The "top-heavy" proposal from HKS, rumored to be the favorite to win the project, "would enclose the playing field beneath a pair of awkward sail-like forms on the roof." The Gensler design, "while doubtless the strongest and most fully developed of the three, with elegant trusses supporting a roof covered in lightweight, translucent foil panels, has the same placeless, generic quality that marks Staples Center and L.A. Live." Hawthorne writes, "To a large extent, the lack of architectural ambition evident in the designs comes as little surprise. Anyone who has spent much time downtown knows AEG is hardly a patron of innovative architecture" (L.A. TIMES, 12/16).

WAITING TO POUNCE: In L.A., Vincent Bonsignore notes Majestic Realty's proposed stadium is "waiting for a team to agree to play there and sell part of its franchise" to Majestic Realty Chair & CEO Ed Roski. But with the NFL "facing labor uncertainty," the Majestic proposal is "in a holding pattern." That "lull has enabled AEG to push its plan into the forefront, and provides them time to catch up to Majestic" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 12/16). Meanwhile, in Dallas, Rick Gosselin writes, "If and when an NFL team relocates to Los Angeles, I would demand that team leave the marks, logos and colors of the franchise in the city it departs." The L.A. franchise should "start with a blank history book -- new nickname, new logos, new color scheme" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 12/16).

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